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Niners won't punish McDonald until process plays out

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Editor's note: San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York appeared on KNBR-AM on Tuesday morning and addressed defensive lineman Ray McDonald for the first time since the player's arrest on domestic violence charges. Below is the transcription of his radio interview:

Now we gotta ask you about Ray McDonald and we appreciate you coming on. This is your first public interview since Ray McDonald got arrested. So I'm gonna ask you directly, why have you waited until now to make any statements or do any interviews?

"I think for me, first of all, our organization speaks as one voice. So whether it's Trent, whether it's Jim, whether it's me, whether it's a statement we put out, we speak with one voice. You can change the words that Jim spoke to you, the words that Trent, and I don't know if he was on directly with you or just with some of the reporters, feel free to put my name associated with any of their words that they've said. And we've had conversations internally. I've had conversations with both my wife and my mother about where we are in what we do and I think it's very important that we do let due process take its course. I think it's very important that we don't judge somebody before, whether charges are filed or whether anything else happens, we want to make sure that everybody is afforded the right that I think Americans are afforded." 

Gonna go back, sort of circle back to the question again and say, I understand Jim speaks for you and so does Trent, but I guess some people were looking for, quote, the word leadership, from the front front front office, where Jim Harbaugh is the coach of the team whereas you are the CEO of the team. If you could do it over again would you be speaking earlier on this to take more leadership on it?

"I think we took leadership as a group, as an organization. I mean, it was all of us, so again, whether it was me saying it, whether it was Jim, whether it was Trent, we're all on the same page. So we're having those conversations, we're making sure we're in lock step, and I don't think you're gonna see me say anything different than what those guys said."

Is it fair to make them speak for you? In some ways I thought it was unfair to put Jim in the cross hairs when you could've just come out and just done it.

"I mean, you can feel that. Jim speaks on football matters and football operations, that's what one of his responsibilities is. If you feel like I should've come out, that's certainly fair for you to feel that. I mean, I'm here today, and I don't think it would've changed anything we would've done."

So that being said, Jed, not changing anything that's been done so far and having one kind of unanimous voice represent yourself and the coach and Trent, explain a little bit what lead to the decision that Ray McDonald was on the field in Dallas? Because a lot of people have been asking about it, what was behind that decision?

"I know you're a UCLA guy and I like quotes. John Wooden talks about character and reputation and I believe very strongly in that quote that you should care more about your character than your reputation. I'm comfortable with my reputation is gonna take shots throughout this process, but my character is, I will not punish somebody until we see evidence that it should be done or before an entire organization, an entire legal police investigation shows us something. Again, whether you sit him down or not, whether he's guilty or not, certainly we've said very clearly what our stance is on domestic violence. We're not changing that and I want to reiterate everything that Jim and Trent have said and what the organization has said. And again, I would much rather walk the line of due process, and I think again, we've said very clearly how we feel about domestic violence. And I would much rather take shots to my reputation than to put somebody down and judge them before an entire investigation has taken place."

Two extremely prominent figures in your franchise history, guys who are in this museum in statue form, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young have both come out and said you guys should not have played Ray McDonald. Steve Young came through with an argument I endorsed earlier in the week, which is I understand Ray McDonald might be exonerated, he may not even charged, but I thought it was my opinion that you guys have reached a boiling point with your team image and your team number of arrests that maybe it was time to take a strong stance to send a message to your fan base and to your locker room that, don't put yourself in these situations. Don't be in a situation where we even have to talk about this. And as Steve Young said on Monday Night Football last night, if we have to sit you and pay you, so be it, but this is a time to take a stand. How do you answer that argument?

"I think it's a fair argument, and again, I think I've said it clearly, until we can go through an entire process and understand all the facts, and let that play out, I would much rather someone criticize me for doing that than punishing somebody who might be innocent and put them in a position where we're presuming guilt before you've given them an opportunity to prove their innocence..."

Again, not to cut you off, but if you would've couched it by saying we're not saying you're guilty but we are saying it is time for the 49ers to behave in a certain way...you guys want entertainment dollars, you guys are a business. And you want to fill the seats and sell the tickets and have fun, and you know there are people that are turning off to the 49ers because of the image. It might not be real but it's an image, so sometimes isn't it important to protect that image?

"I think again, I think as a leader, you need to make sure that you're doing what you feel is the right thing and it's not always what is the most popular thing. Again, I will fall back on if you want to take shots at my reputation and if you want to characterize me in this way for taking this stance, I'm comfortable with that. And I realize there might be people that dissent and I fully acknowledge that and I fully respect that decision. But for me to look myself in the mirror and say I'm gonna punish someone, whether it's not playing them or cutting them or suspending them or whatever that punishment is before you can go through an entire legal process, an entire investigation, that's just not who I am."

... As an organization, have you guys talked about prevention programs going forward, educational programs or whatever other steps you might take or have taken already that we might not even know about, just to kind of talk to the players, inform them, new rookies coming in and saying look, we do have a standard, we do have the 49er way, and we have to start talking about prevention now going forward?

"Those are things that have been in place for a long time. Do we need to make sure that we are doing that and continue to do that? Absolutely. We still have great people like Harry Edwards that are here, leading a lot of those things in the locker room. Keena Turner, and guys like that, that understand what the past is of the San Francisco 49ers and what we expect today and what we expect in the future. And we're gonna continue to make that a goal to be the best on and off the field that we can be. We haven't lived up to that expectation. We need to make sure we are continuing to do a better job and continuing to get better in that area of not necessarily the game but certainly in our team and our organization."

I think you've answered all the questions about Ray McDonald so I'll ask you a bigger question about the league image. It's a very, very wild time in the history of the league right now. Man, the NFL is in the crosshairs nationally and culturally almost unlike any other time since maybe the Michael Vick dog stuff and then some, talking about human beings here. Do you feel Roger Goodell did his job well in handling this or should the Commissioner be reprimanded by you guys, the owners, for sort of bungling the Ray Rice incident?

"Well I'll say first, I think it was obviously acknowledged that it was bungled by the league and they came back and they corrected it. Ray didn't take the field in the regular season, he was already down, they suspended him for the year. Could it have happened sooner? It could have happened sooner. I don't understand, the video, what was seen, when it was seen, how it wasn't seen, I don't know the answers to that so it is very hard for me to answer that question. But we certainly need to take a very hard look at ourselves as a league and figure out a better way to do this. Even coming back to Ray McDonald, we've got a collective bargaining agreement in place that makes it difficult for the team to take an action, the league to take an action, etcetera, and I think we need to set any negotiating aside and sit down and figure out, is there a better way through collective bargaining, through everything, to look through domestic violence and understand each case is its own separate case. Ray McDonald is not Ray Rice, and if there's another one, it's not the same as the previous. Each case is its own individual entity, and I think as a society we have a sense of saying, well, we didn't do it right with Ray Rice right away so you need to overdo it with Ray McDonald or whoever else it is, and I don't believe that's the country that we live in. I don't think that's a fair way to approach it. I think we need to have a better holistic approach but I think you'd have to be very careful not to punish somebody that is in a different situation than the last one and apply what happened in the last one to this one."

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